The Tar Heels (39-13, 19-8 ACC) welcome Virginia Tech (34-18, 11-16 ACC) to Boshamer Stadium for a three-game series beginning Thursday at 6pm.
UNC is currently riding a 10-game winning streak. That type of late-season success has become the norm under head coach Mike Fox’s direction – the Tar Heels are 56-14 after the school’s exam break in regular season play since 2006.
The corresponding result is that North Carolina has likely played itself off the fence for a national seed. According to warrennolan.com, UNC is 16-8 against RPI Top-50 opponents and owns a strong 14-4 road mark.
The Tar Heels rank sixth in the NCAA’s official RPI standings as of May 15. Boyd’s World’s RPI Needs Report currently has UNC needing a 1-2 finish this weekend to close the regular season with a top-eight RPI ranking.
The ACC Tournament begins next Wednesday at the NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C., but conference tournaments have historically not played a significant role in the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s decision-making.
“If the Tar Heels take care of business against Virginia Tech this weekend, they're going to be in fantastic shape for a national seed and I'm not real sure what happens in the ACC tournament matters that much,” said Kendall Rogers, Perfect Game’s college baseball managing editor.
Aaron Fitt, Baseball America’s national college writer, agreed, saying that UNC was in “very good shape” for a national seed, barring a sweep by Virginia Tech and a losing record in the ACC Tournament.
Fitt also provided some insight into the relevancy of the conference tournaments.
“The committee does not place a ton of weight on the conference tournaments, except as an extension of positive or negative momentum,” Fitt said. “If a team heads into a conference tournament in a funk and then continues losing in the conference tournament, that can work against it. And if a team enters the conference tournament hot and wins the tournament, that can be a big boost.”
Despite all of statistical analysis that will occur over the next 10 days by media and fans alike, Fox will be one person that doesn’t partake.
“People will tell me what our RPI and strength of schedule is, but I don’t go looking for it,” Fox said. “I just want us to take care of the task at hand. If you win the right games and enough games, you’re going to be in the mix. I just don’t want to focus too much on, ‘We have to be a national seed,’ and then if we’re all of a sudden not, we’re like, ‘Oh shoot,’ and we haven’t even played a regional game yet. You have to be careful about that.”
There’s no doubt about the ramifications of earning a national seed, especially for North Carolina. Since 2006, UNC is 23-1 in regional and super regional play at home, with the lone loss coming against South Carolina in the 2007 supers.
North Carolina’s super regional opponents at home have been heavy on local teams, including the Gamecocks, Coastal Carolina (‘08) and East Carolina (‘09). That changed last season, however, as Stanford arrived from across the country for the best-of-three series.
A similar type of scenario could also occur this postseason. While North Carolina will likely draw East Carolina or Coastal Carolina in regional play, the only nearby schools with the potential of hosting opening weekend regionals are N.C. State, Virginia and South Carolina.
The selection committee strives to prevent conference members from meeting up until Omaha, and the Gamecocks host LSU this weekend for what could be a national seed.
“As for a potential pairing, it's going to be a team from another part of the country unless LSU wins the series at South Carolina this weekend, in which case the Gamecocks probably won't be a national seed and I could see them and UNC paired together,” Fitt said. “Otherwise it's a crapshoot – will it be a team from the West or Texas (Rice? Texas A&M?), or maybe Purdue?”
Future opponents are beyond North Carolina’s control, but the Tar Heels will have a say in whether they earn yet another national seed. That quest continues against the Hokies this weekend.